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Marin moms seek to block bill to decriminalize hallucinogens

By Richard Halstead, Marin IJ

Three Marin County moms who lost children to psychedelic use are keeping a close eye on the Legislature this week.

The women, who formed a coalition to block proposed legislation that would decriminalize the personal use and “social sharing” of hallucinogens, are closely watching the fate of Senate Bill 58.

Proposed by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, the bill would decriminalize the personal use without financial gain of mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, psilocybin and psilocin. The legislation would also decriminalize facilitated use of these substances after the state Health and Human Services Agency convenes a workgroup to recommend a framework to govern their therapeutic use.

On Friday, Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, will decide whether the legislation moves to the Assembly floor for a vote or gets held over for reconsideration next year.

In a statement issued when the bill was passed by the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee in June, Wiener said, “Psychedelics are non-addictive and show great promise in helping people struggling with mental health and addiction challenges, and it’s time to stop criminalizing its possession and use.”

Wiener added that he looked forward to ensuring that “veterans and all Californians can access these treatments for mental health and addiction issues and for personal use.”

“We’re not opposed to the decriminalization of psychedelics per se, we are pro-safety,” said Beth Parker, an attorney with the Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education in a statement. “There should be guardrails in place. If we require warning labels and instructions on a bottle of aspirin, surely we should require basic education and safety planning before giving a green light to substances that cause hallucinations, distorted thinking, and detachment from reality.”

Parker is a relative of one of the three Marin residents whose recent deaths were linked to the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms.

“Our family member bought so-called magic mushrooms in Oakland where they had been decriminalized,” Parker said. “They came in a brown paper bag with no instructions, no warnings, no information about how much to take or with whom, no information about contraindications or interactions with other drugs.”

Lisa Hudson, one of the mothers who founded the coalition, lost her 16-year-old son, Shayne, in 2020 when he ran off the 40-foot deck of their home after eating psilocybin mushrooms.

“Shayne specifically took a really large dose of mushrooms called the ‘god’s dose’ in order to talk to God and understand the meaning of the universe,” Hudson said. “He leapt over the railing with arms outstretched, saying, “I’ve got this,” and plunged into our backyard. He passed away in my husband’s arms.”

Hudson said her son, a sophomore at what is now Archie Williams High School, got the mushrooms from a classmate at school.

Hudson said her son had read recent stories that described psilocybin mushrooms as “natural and organic” and stressed their promise for helping people suffering from depression.

“He was under the impression that there was no risk whatsoever to his health,” Hudson said. “I don’t think people should be going to jail for using psychedelics, but I don’t think that people should have personal access to them so freely like we see with marijuana now.”

In March 2020, Kristin Nash, also a San Anselmo resident, lost her 21-year-old son, Will, in an incident linked to psychedelic-induced hallucinations.

The college student suffered an adverse reaction to 2 grams of magic mushrooms and went into a state of psychosis. A friend called campus safety officers, but the officers were unable to stop Nash from drinking from a jug of protein powder, and the talcy substance clogged his throat and lungs and caused him to suffocate.

“Will and his friends did not have a clear understanding of the risk of these substances,” Kristin Nash said. “They had looked at Michael Pollan’s book and they had seen this movie called Fantastic Fungi. That whole narrative played into their mindset. They thought mushrooms are natural. They never dreamed things could go so sideways.”

Erik Mebust, a spokesman for Wiener, said this week that the deaths of these Marin residents are outliers.

“Studies of emergency room and law enforcement data in states like Colorado that have already decriminalized psychedelics show no discernible impacts on health and public safety,” Mebust wrote in an email.

The coalition, however, states that according to California Emergency Department data, the number of emergency department visits associated with hallucinogen use has increased 84% since 2016. It also notes that use of non-LSD hallucinogens nearly doubled among adults ages 19 to 30 from 2018 to 2021, according to a study by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The coalition points to studies showing that there are serious contraindications to psychedelic use. They should not be taken by anyone with high blood pressure or seizure disorders, a family history of psychotic or affective disorders, individuals taking certain types of antidepressants or those with suicidal ideation.

And the coalition says there is evidence that use of psychedelics can result in longer-term adverse effects such as persistent psychosis and ongoing perceptual disorders.

“With the right guidance and support, psychedelics can be transformational and curative,” Jennifer Mitchell, a UCSF neuroscientist and behavioral pharmacologist who has led clinical trials on hallucinogens, said in a statement. “However, without the right guidance and support this vulnerability can be incredibly destructive. It is important that we generate a system of psychedelic access that will enable appropriate containment and oversight.”

In a statement, the Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education’s Parker said, “We recognize that emerging research shows promise for therapeutic psychedelic use — where trained facilitators are able to administer the drug in controlled and supervised environments to address mental health conditions like treatment-resistant depression or PTSD.

“But the reality for recreational use in California is much more concerning,” Parker said.

PUBLISHED: August 31, 2023 at 12:59 p.m. | UPDATED: September 1, 2023 at 5:01 p.m.

By Richard Halstead | | Marin Independent Journal

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